Just having a roster with some depth should help the Marshalltown Community College volleyball team in 2013.
Depth was the biggest issue in 2012 as the Tigers finished 14-26 in Chris Brees' first season at the helm. But a full offseason of recruiting allowed the coaching staff to upgrade the talent and boost the overall numbers.
"We are 100 times better as far as athletically and ability go," said Brees, who is a Marshalltown High School graduate. "We have a lot of young kids this year so the learning curve is coming into play. The intensity is not where I want it to be, but the kids are excited to play against someone other than ourselves."
Strengths of this year's team will be on the defensive side of the ball. Upgrades in the back row and at the net should force opponents to attack into much smaller windows on the court.
Leading the defense will be sophomore libero Ashley Salgado and sophomore defensive specialist Alyssa Whitmore in the back row and freshmen Miranda Smith and Sam Hinrichs at the net.
Salgado led the Tigers last year with 796 digs, while Whitmore finished with 364.
"Ashley is making an impact both on and off the court as a leader," Brees said. "She is excited about the new roster, too."
Brees said Hinrichs will serve as the No. 1 setter but also will be heavily involved in the blocking game. Hinrichs replaces the departed Tanya Literski, who finished with 1,235 assists last season.
The new roster goes 12 deep, which is four more players than Brees had to work with last year. Couple that with the upgrade in talent, and MCC should be ready for an elevated number of victories.
"I like my roster," Brees said. "We will play some ranked teams this year and I don't look at their rosters and think we can't compete. We won't be as tall as some of the other teams we'll face but that doesn't mean they are better."
Another sophomore back for another season is right-side hitter Katelyn Yauslin, who finished with 389 kills a year ago. She has battled through some shoulder issues early in the preseason practices but should be one of the top producing hitters this season.
Joining Yauslin at the net will be a few talented players from the area - Marshalltown's Smith and BCLUW's Reeba Box - as well as West Des Moines Valley's Meghann Cole. That group will collectively try to replace Mady Van Metre and her 507 kills, which ranked ninth nationally last season.
"We have a lot of growing to do offensively because the speed of the game is different at the collegiate level, but we should be really good defensively," Brees said. "We won't hit it off the court. We have some powerful hitters, but we need to keep it in play defensively and then take advantage of the offensive opportunities when they come."
Hinrichs and Cole come to Marshalltown from Ankeny and West Des Moines Valley, respectively. Both played for Brees' club team - Iowa Power Volleyball Alliance - and are on the same page offensively.
"Sam and Meghann are clicking well together right now," Brees said. "Sam brings a little different philosophy as a setter. She has a fun attitude and she can hit it hard, too. I am still trying to figure out how I want to use her.
"Meghann is someone who was not used properly by her high school coach. She is used to be the third or fourth option offensively. We will need her to be one of our first options here."
Brees said Smith is the hardest worker on the team, and Box came into camp in the best shape after recovering from a torn labrum suffered during basketball season at BCLUW.
"You can't even tell she was hurt," Brees said of the Box injury. "Reeba is a our spark plug. And Miranda is a kid you dream of having on your team. She is undersized, but she makes up for it with effort and could be our leading blocker at the end of the year."
If Brees decides to use Hinrichs in a more offensive role, he will move to a 6-2 set, which will get freshman setter Emily Anker on to the court more often.
"It is nice to have options this year," Brees said. "If we use Sam as a hitter then Emily is going to have to be our No. 1 setter. And I have plenty of confidence in her to take over that role."
Adding more local flavor to the roster will be freshman Mehlon Maxwell, who tried out for the squad this preseason and has been a pleasant surprise to Brees.
"She has been the biggest surprise so far," Brees said of Maxwell. "She is very good defensively. I don't think a lot of balls are going to hit the floor against us this year. We will be a tremendous defensive team."
The Tigers will play 12 matches against preseason top-20 ranked foes this season, including three inside the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference.
Marshalltown will play on the Division II side of the ICCAC, which adds Northeast this season, where Kirkwood begins the season at No. 8 and DMACC starts at No. 11. Iowa Central also is receiving votes, while Iowa Western is ranked No. 2 to begin the year in the Division I rankings.
"We'll have to play some good volleyball to win games in our conference," Brees said. "Besides those ranked teams, I also think Southwestern and Ellsworth will be tough. But I think we can surpirse some people this year.
"We just need to be patient with our offense and understand what our strengths are."
Brees also adds a new coach to the team this season. Former Marshalltown Bobcat assistant Jennifer O'Neal joins the coaching staff. O'Neal played collegiately at Grand View and graduated at Marshalltown with Brees in 1993.
"This is a big loss for the high school, which was not my intention," Brees said. "I just know we work well together, and I am excited to be working with her. i could not ask for a better staff really. I value both of their opinions."
The Tigers begin the season Saturday at the RKP Invite hosted by Southeast Community College. MCC will play McCook (11 a.m.), Southeast CC (1 p.m.) and Northeast CC (5 p.m.) before taking on Clinton Community College on Monday. The home opener will be against Grand View University at 7 p.m. on Aug. 29.